In 2014, I travelled alone to Seoul in the Republic of Korea, better known as South Korea. Thus far, it’s my last big solo trip. It was an interesting experience. I’ve forgotten many details and activities I did. That’s why we blog since 2017. But anyway, thanks to photos on Facebook, my guidebook, Wikipedia and Wikitravel, I can reconstruct parts of the adventure.
In 2014 I spent five days in Seoul. I not only visited the city, I also did an excursion to the DMZ and spent half a minute in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea).
Mixing old, old new, new old and new
Seoul mixes old neighbourhoods with hypermodern buildings, areas which used to be modern but now look dated zand restored historic landmarks. Nothing surprising there, but still worth noting.
Rich and poor
The film ‘Parasite‘ showed it strikingly. The precipice between rich and poor in the ROK is huge. You can see it everywhere. The Airbnb I stayed was nice and charming, but it was obviously an important source of income for the handome 30-something who still lived with his parents. That is not uncommon in Korea. S., a guy I text several times a week, is 32 and lives with his parents and sister.
But the state of the street, the small housing, the uncovered electricity wires, all point to differences in wealth distribution.
Conservatism and discretion
Korea is socially conservative. Deep respect for parents, the expectation to start a heterosexual family and have children, respect for the hierarchy. Sexism, racism and homophobia are rife.
Homosexuality is legal, except in the army. Because of the treat from the North, men have military service duty when they’re young.
You can feel it. I spotted many gay guys, but relatively discreetly. I didn’t go cruising as I did in Taiwan three years later but I did go to a gay bar.
Homo Hill and holding hands
I went to Homo Hill in Itaewon. A steep street with gay bars. In one of them I only sat a few minutes when I was introduced to a hot guy. He was quickly interested in me and held my hand. In Korea it’s a gesture showing interest in someone. It’s odd, but it’s clear.
Taking a taxi to my Airbnb, he was very touchy-feely. I didn’t expect that. After a some horizontal exercise, he left for home. Staying overnight wasn’t an option.
Also, in 2014 I didn’t have the courage to pursue more adventures. I don’t know why.
Not single friendly
Seoul is not a single-friendly place. I saw many couples or groups. In restaurants I wasn’t welcome. So my strategy was eating out a half hour before the rush hour.
Seoul being a place for couples was also very clear at Dragon Hill Spa, the jjimjilbang to visit in Seoul. The wet areas are obviously divided by sex, but people came in groups. The common areas were popular for couples to hang out, as they don’t have privacy from their parents at home.
More on this subject. This blogpost, however, says restaurants are accommodating single patrons.
Seoul is a complicated city. Even less than Japanese or Mandarin, Korean is hard to grasp due to long words and complicated official transcriptions from Korean spelling.
I found the public transport not easy. Also it was 2014 so I didn’t have a local sim card. That didn’t help.
I saw quite a few protests when I was in Seoul. Solo people evangelizing shoppers in Meongdong, but also protests in the context of the 2014 sinking of MV Sewol.
Cute and colourful
But Seoul is also cute and colourful. A bit showty even. Aegyo is the Korean word voor kawaii.
I did enjoy my stay in Seoul, but it wasn’t an undisputed succes. Danny and I plan to go to Korea in the more or less near future. I don’t think I’d go alone again.
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Very interesting fact about Seoul not being particularly accommodating to the solo diner. Many other parts Asia are the quite the opposite, and I wonder why South Korea is different!
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The social culture is very oriented towards groups and families (couples).